Missing the Target


We live in an age obsessed with peeling the onion, with digging into the secrets and mysteries that our forebears accepted. While weaker institutions have been pierced by our obsessive desire to scrutinize, the Church has resisted all efforts to bring it into the light. It has held tighter than a clam. Will the recent attacks (including Christopher Hitchens' call for his arrest) on Pope Benedict about his role in covering up the abuse of children by priests, his refusal to punish the offenders and his efforts to shield them from investigation and punishment by secular authorities change this?

Not likely.

So long as Benedict is the target of the criticism the Church will be able to roll with the punches. The attempts to tie him directly to the cover-up of such abuse are damaging, for sure, but they fall short of the kind of information that would force change. Not a terribly popular man or pope, the attacks may even allow Benedict to strengthen his position as he comes to be seen as a martyr for a larger cause: the protection of the reputation of the man who bears the most responsibility for the Church's enabling and protection of sexually predatory priests. And that of course is Pope John Paul II.

In its long history, the Catholic Church has inflicted an awful lot of pain and misery on an awful lot of people. From the perspective of sheer magnitude, such high profile crimes like the Inquisition, its attack on enlightenment, its support of Fascism, its negligence regarding the spread of HIV and its long tradition of virulent anti-Semitism capture the public's imagination and provide fodder for conspiracy theories of all shapes and sizes. But, and I say this as the scion of an Irish and French Canadian catholic family tree, the Mother Church has reserved her most brutal side for its own believers.

Most of this brutality has been banal on the surface as compared to the more spectacular behavior discussed above.

Israeli Settlements and American Security


Once again the Israeli policy and practice of constructing settlements in the West Bank is undermining the peace process, and causing a rift in US-Israeli relations. Prime Minister Netanyahu is defiantly rejecting US demands that he stop recently announced plans to build yet another Israeli apartment complex in Eastern Jerusalem, and there is intense pressure on the Obama administration to back off and paper over the difference. It should not do so.

The occupied territories of the West Bank were captured by Israel in the 1967 war against Egypt and Jordan. The continued occupation is in violation of the international law principle against the acquisition of territory by conquest. It has been condemned as such time and again by resolutions of the United Nations Security Council, often with affirmative votes by the United States. Its illegality has been confirmed by the International Court of Justice. Yet Israel not only continues to occupy it, but over decades has sought to colonize parts of the territory, including Eastern Jerusalem, as part of a plan to change the "facts on the ground", such that when the state of Palestine is eventually established, it will be impossible to return these settled areas to the Palestinians. There are now over 300,000 Israeli's living in settlements within the occupied territories, many of them within the controversial "security barrier" built by Israel in the last decade.

As has been pointed out recently, the change in the political context is that Israelis no longer think that land-for-peace is essential to Israeli interests, while peace and a two-state solution is increasingly seen by Americans as essential to US national security.

Sayonara to Tuna


On Thursday the United Nations conference on endangered species soundly rejected the tabled proposal to ban international trade in buefin tuna. The vote was taken by delegates to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, commonly referred to as CITES. The vote was 68-20 against, with 30 abstentions.

The bluefin tuna stocks around the world are understood to be in catastrophic decline. There are two separate stocks in the Atlantic, and recent studies show that the Western Atlantic stock declined by 82% between 1970-2007, while the Eastern Atlantic and Mediterranean Stock has declined almost 75% since the 1950s, and is still in free-fall.

The Japanese consume more than 80% of all the Atlantic bluefin tuna catch, and the Japanese government pulled out all stops to defeat the resolution.

Politics, War, and "The Hurt Locker"


The Hurt Locker, the tightly coiled drama of a bomb-disposal unit in Iraq, walked off with the Oscar for best picture last week, leaving the celluloid colossus Avatar in the dust. In truth, The Hurt Locker was the better film. But it was also touted as being the more genuine and honest film, the more so because it was so apolitical. Avatar, while set on another planet in a different age, was simplistically and transparently political and anti-war in the "white guilt genre". Similarly, The Hurt Locker has been compared favourably with the simplistic and political Green Zone, as a movie that was capable of nuance and complexity precisely because it was apolitical.

I want to suggest that it is nothing of the sort. While the director has denied any political agenda, the movie can clearly be viewed as a powerful allegory, and was likely written as such. It begins with the sombre warning that "war can be addictive", and the movie unfolds to depict the extent to which the main protagonist, Sgt. William James, has become addicted to the adrenalin rush of combat and bomb disposal. He becomes increasingly reckless as he seeks out new hits, and puts the lives of himself and others in danger to get his fix. The movie ends with his return to Iraq for yet another tour, after finding himself incapable of adjusting to family and civil society back home.

In the tradition of such other war movies as Indochine and the Quiet American, Sgt. James can be seen as an allegory for a country, in this case the United States - a nation that has become addicted to war, increasingly proficient but reckless in its conduct of armed conflict, and incapable of returning to mundane aspects of peaceful civil society.


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